Visual Impairment In Childhood: Causes And Treatment Options

Visual impairment in childhood is not uncommon. At least 2 to 4 percent of pre-school children are known to have some type of vision problems. Vision impairment is a condition wherein the affected person has partial or complete loss of vision. Vision impairment can occur in adults as well as children.

It can be temporary impairment or prolonged difficulty of visual acuity. Vision problems in children can be congenital or it can develop after birth as the child grows.

The most common example of vision impairment is refractory error, where a child is not able to things properly that are at long distance or difficulty in reading small letters. The damage can be unilateral or in some cases both the eyes are involved. Certain type of visual disability can be corrected by wearing glasses, contact lens or with surgical intervention. However, if the damage is severe all corrective measures will also not help to improve the eyesight.

Causes Of Visual Impairment In Childhood

Vision impairment in children can occur due to many reasons.

It can be since birth or develop afterwards. Disease, traumatic injury to eye, refractory errors are few basic causes for diminished or complete loss of vision. Here are some of the common vision problems in children:

  • Nearsightedness: It is a condition where the distant objects are seen as blurred image. Also called myopia in medical language, this condition occurs due to problem in focusing because of altered lens angle.
  • Farsightedness: In this visual defect, nearby objects appear blurry due to faulty focusing of the lens.
  • Amblyopia: The most common cause of impaired vision between 1 to 5 years old children is Amblyopia. In this condition there is abnormal processing of images by the brain. As it occurs during the tender developmental stage of vision, the child may have permanent partial loss of vision. Amblyopia usually develops in one eye. Sometimes both the eyes are also afflicted.
  • Retinal detachment: Very uncommon, but may lead to permanent loss of vision if not corrected early. A blow or injury to eye can detach retina at the posterior portion of eye causing visual defect or blindness. Only the injured eye is affected.
  • Infection: Congenital visual impairment or blindness can occur to the child in the womb if the mother is suffering from sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, toxoplasmosis etc.
  • Cataract and glaucoma: Congenital cataract and glaucoma run in families. Cataract causes cloudiness in the lens, whereas in glaucoma pressure of eye increases leading to defective vision.
  • Optic nerve damage: Optic nerve carries the image that has developed on the retina to the brain for processing. Damage to optic nerve can be due to congenital glaucoma or eye injury.

Treatment Options For Visually Impaired Children

Treatment of visual impaired children is extremely challenging. As he is not able to see properly or if he has complete loss of vision he will face learning difficulty during this period of life. His education may be affected. Such children therefore need extra care and support both from parents and family members as well as teachers in education institution.

Besides, there should be regular checkup and consultation by an eye specialist. Some vision problems can be treated and corrected whereas few which have permanent damage may leave the child blind.

  • For example if the child has cataract caused after a trauma to the eye, its surgical removal will improve eyesight. But congenital cataract even after surgery does not have good prognosis.
  • Refractory error such as nearsightedness and farsightedness can be corrected by wearing lens and eye glasses.
  • Surgery for glaucoma can improve visual acuity in the child.